Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Zuka Experience!

On my recent visit to Pondicherry to visit some friends, my cousin had excitedly recommended to try this place called Zuka Choco-La. Located in a corner of MG street, the place is not easily visible at the first glance. Also parking is a little bit of a hassle, especially if you are coming by car. Nevertheless, all this is more than compensated once you experience Zuka!

The entire place is very small even by bakery standards and can hardly seat 12 people inside. The place looked like any other cake shop but the ceiling was full of colourful butterflies stuck on it, giving a lovely feel. The difference between this shop and others is the items on display. Cakes and Chocolates were put on display and one cannot help shifting eyes from item to item. Each and every item was as if it was prepared in Heaven. The very presentation was absolute bliss. If only I had more money, I could have tried every cake there :P. Even the names of the cakes were tantalising. Some of them were Godfather chocolate lava cake, Moksha etc.

Inside!


Chocolate Something!


Coffee Mist!

Hot Chocolate!


Moksha!
The hot chocolate had a chocolate spoon with it that made it all the more alluring. Of all these Moksha was the highlight. It was as if we are attaining moksha (salvation). It was too perfect to be true. You have to experience it. Unfortunately on both the occasions (yes, I was determined to visit the shop the next day also), Godfather chocolate lava cakes were sold :(

On the bright side, Zuka has a branch in Chennai too :D. One must definitely check out this cafe if they are to visit Pondicherry!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Mean Anomalies!

The current news trending across India is the terribly hot weather tormenting every other state except the north east. Chennai too, is undoubtedly, reeling under the intense summer heat. But I soon found that several other places in Andhra, Orissa and the north are facing much severe heat waves. One amusing thing that I found was that Bangalore’s maximum temperature had been higher than Chennai’s for more than a couple of days and I couldn’t help smiling to myself.  At the same time, a sense of foreboding crept inside me. Even yesterday night at roughly 9:30 PM, Bangalore’s temperature was 34 degrees and Chennai’s temperature was 31 degrees. However there was a difference in humidity with Bangalore having 34% and Chennai having 79%, which would tilt the scales towards Chennai in terms of sultriness. Anyway the point is that, this is a very disturbing anomaly.


With every passing year, I get the feeling that the climate during summer is hotter than the previous. Hardly January ends and immediately the place starts to heat up which actually should happen only by end of March. During my childhood, which is the early 2000s, I can actually remember rains making an appearance starting from July itself. The rain then intensifies during October and November (North East Monsoon). But now, especially after 2010, climate has been both extreme and unpredictable. Several times I have thought the summers are becoming longer or atleast the sun is omnipresent and the number of rain days is reducing. In these recent years, rains don’t make an appearance until late October. In the aftermath of the 2015 floods, it was widely said that the rain that is normally spread out across three months lashed in just a week. The reasons stated for the floods were aplenty. One could read it in detail here. In recent weeks, news related to heat waves are coming daily. People are dying from strokes. The cricket board is in the midst of a problem of conducting matches in grounds in Maharashtra due to the dearness of water, which is required to maintain pitches. More recently, 11 of 12 hydro power stations in Karnataka are not functioning due to negligible water flow in the Cauvery.

Now the question is whether this particular season is just a random event or if it is really climate change. The meteorology department reckons that this is a consequence of El Nino. Thank God, if only that is the reason. But then, we mustn’t take to an attitude of complacency. It is not as if climate change is not happening. What if this was climate change in disguise?

The number of private vehicles is increasing by the day. And it looks like both automobile and banks aren’t going to do anything to lessen it, what with the constant release of ever new models and attractive EMIs. Trees are felled regularly and there is never going to be a reduction in demand for air conditioners. Plastics and fossil fuels are still in use. I won’t deny that I am also part of this contribution destruction. Ofcourse, there is also an optimistic side to look at this. Solar power is seeing increased patronage, Tesla has entered the Indian market with its hybrid electric cars, New Delhi has come up with the odd-even car day concept etc. Most importantly, more people are becoming aware and the clamour surrounding pollution especially is growing. Agreed, positive change is happening. 

But this is not enough. Remember Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech after he won the Oscar?  Climate Change is real. There are small yet definite signs of it. We are extracting and consuming way more than ever needed. Way more that the conservation and preservation attempts by us are almost negligible. Have we caught ourselves in an irreversible chemical earth reaction? Are we too late to reverse it? Are we at a point that whatever green effort we take will not be able to cool down Nature’s anger? 

Some people reading this may be thinking, “Sure! You are one to talk! First you change instead of writing about it!” To them I quote, “Words have power. They affect the mind in a pronounced way. Whether they are spoken or written, they are powerful influences. While what you say to others is important, even more important is what you say to yourself”. I also say that change comes from within and little changes come together to pronounce a big change. Change can be as little as consuming less and preserving more or as big as developing, mass producing and marketing a green product.

One thing is for sure. If we don’t do or create something or find a solution that is so phenomenal – phenomenal enough to the extent of Apple’s iPhone or Google’s search engine, it will be very late. Nature will have the last laugh but we won’t be laughing alongside it.

 


Friday, 26 February 2016

Benne Masala!


On a second visit to Bangalore, this time turned out to be more relaxing. Besides, I got to relish food from a famous and old hotel.Whatever new cuisine that catches our fancy, we still cannot let go of our native's cuisine. South Indian cuisine will continue to be at the top in my list of favourite foods. And in South Indian cuisine, the Dosa is my most cherished food. The thin and 'usually' subtle crisp dosa is a rice pancake which is served with piping hot sambar and chutney.

So I was very much intrigued and curious when my brother told about this place - CTR - Central Tiffin Room (Shri Sagar) in Bangalore, noted for its Benne Masala Dosas. Getting to the place was as usual irritating, what with the city's sluggish traffic. The Uber ride left us far ahead of the exact place and we had to ask for directions. The street was too crowded and was filled with shops of all sorts. It reminded me of
T Nagar in Chennai. Finally after finding our feet in the wave of people, we found the hotel. We were completely taken aback. The building looked decrepit but also sort of quaint. Inside, it was jam packed. As soon as we entered, the smell of butter hit our noses. Waiters were bringing trays of plates filled with the most picturesque and seriously attractive dosas. We were given a table within 5 minutes. It seemed as if all of the customers inside were eating only one thing. DOSAS! We ordered three sets of Benne Masala and two filter coffees. The waiter was sort of irritating when he asked repetitively, "Is that all?", as if subtly telling us "Eat fast and get the hell out". It took less than 2 minutes for them to bring. No words can do justice to the below picture.



It was both fluffy and unbelievably crispy. It is magic because both cannot be achieved when a dosa is made. It goes without saying that it was delicious. The dosa combined with the thick white and green chutney proved to be food brought from the seventh heaven. Sadly, there was no sambhar. Not that the sambhar made here is of any good. It is good but not as good as the sambhar made in Tamil Nadu. The reason being, Udupi sambhar has an hint of jaggery which totally sweetens spoils the dish. Apart from that, they don't add small onions and garlic. These are ingredients which are crucial for that hot sambhar. Agreed, Udupi sambhar is unique in its own way. If this dosa was served with sambhar made in, say, Saravana Bhavan, the result would be a food made by the Gods. 

Not satiated with one dosa, we ordered another dosa. We were shocked when they refused saying that all are over and they actually were beginning to close the shutters. The time was just 9:30.  Only now we understood why the waiter was pestering. Disappointed, we started sipping the filter coffee. Ah, our happiness was brought back in an instant.

Next time, we decided, we must come to this place for brunch in an empty stomach and have unlimited dosas.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Bangalore Day!

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Bangalore for a relative's wedding. The city has always been a welcome respite from the Chennai heat. However this time, the experience proved to be a nightmare. The transportation system here is a mess and the pollution is alarming.







 
The marriage ceremony was conducted in a beautiful temple. As I was roaming the temple premises on that chilly morning, I glanced upwards. A flock of birds was flying above the gopuram in a circular pattern. My attention caught immediately, I captured this picture.



For more, visit my instagram @ akash249

P.S: Amid all the nasty, controversial things that has been happening for over a year, let us all remember that on this day 66 years before, India proudly declared herself as a secular republic. The unification of this country despite diverse religions and languages should make other uninteresting (having one main language or one main religion) countries jealous.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Chennai Deluge!



The first few days of December 2015 in Chennai could be probably best worst described in two words – ‘Mercilessly Devastating’. Never before in the life of any of the average Chennaite has such a flood of this magnitude occurred. It is widely reported that Chennai has never received such heavy rains in a 100 years. Though Chennai is no stranger to that usual metropolitan flooding which usually recedes within a day at the most, this year, the flooding rose to new heights! A very disastrous one at that too! Disastrous to the extent that several localities in Chennai, especially the suburban areas were inundated to ‘scary’ levels – thereby producing a not-so-comical meme describing Chennai as the Venice of India.

The flooding is owed to the torrential rains which in turn lead to the outflows from the city’s water-bodies like the Chembarakkam lake. And when this happened, the city’s urban planning was put to test and remarkably failed. The so-called realty havens in the city like Velachery, Manapakkam and the famous OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road or the I.T corridor) etc were reportedly the most hit. All the above mentioned areas were built on wetlands, marshes. In contrast, some old Chennai areas like Mylapore, George Town etc fared better in this flood crisis that had very good planning. There is no use in blaming anyone in particular. Everyone has a say in this and are responsible for the ongoing crisis. Climate change is also linked to this flood, seeing that Tamil Nadu received a ridiculous rain surplus when the rest of India had a deficit – in one word a glaring ‘Irregularity’. 

After last week’s nightmare that was characterised by complete power outage for as long as a week in some areas, network disruption for more than 4 days, public transportation hassles due to water logged roads, Chennai Airport and Central shutdown for 3 days, Chennai is slowly but surely getting back on its feet. By Monday this week, all transport services were restored. 

My area i.e a single stretch of main road and buildings on either side was saved from inundation. But the Adyar river that had massively flooded was hardly 500 metres away. It is still unthinkable that water had actually grazed the bridge roads. The police had barricaded it and not allowed people to watch. One popular city hospital (2 minutes from my house), which was unfortunately (or foolishly) built on the lower banks failed to escape the wrath of the raging waters. With water flooding more than 2 floors and the critical patients shifted to top floors, one would have thought they were safe. But alas this problem coupled with power shutdown (apparently they did not have adequate and exclusive generators), took away the lives of some people. All the relatives of these patients suffered mental agony and shock when they were asked to collect the bodies from the government general hospital. Apart from this, there were some people who were stranded in the nearby IT parks for a day or two.

The main road that I mentioned above happens to be an important highway and therefore it was incredulous, when I saw on the morning of December 2nd, that it did not look anything like a highway. Moreover, it looked like a temporary parking lot. Indeed, I was reminded of a scene out of Walking Dead vividly! Ofcourse, there was also people around instead zombies. 

But it definitely looked like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic movie. I don’t know why I was reminded by that. Though I knew it would definitely not happen, one tiny part of my mind did come up with far-fetched imagery of Chennai submerging completely. Cargo trucks and tempo travellers were parked in large numbers. People were walking on the road in groups, apparently lost or shifting from their homes. All shops and restaurants closed their shutters. The scene remained the same next day except by then relief trucks with boats start arriving. Rescue missions had begun that day. My cousin brother along with his wife, made a good decision to come to our house, after their locality was under danger of more flooding. The next day, Friday, we heard army choppers flying. It was becoming more hopeful by the end of the week. Shops had also started functioning. Ofcourse, I am talking about only my locality. The rest of Chennai, in large parts, was still hampered by problems. 

We went through three nights without electricity. Suddenly the world seemed even darker and quieter. During the nights, we talked amongst ourselves. It was only then I realised with panic how fast time had passed away and how seemingly fast I have grown. I had almost forgotten that there was a thing called FM radio. There was still more than half juice in my mobile. From the dozen radio stations, only in one, RJs were constantly giving updates and acting as the Samaritan middlemen by giving SOS shout-outs. Rain was still playing a cruel game against us. The power was only restored on Saturday evening. When we switched on the television for the news, we were shocked by their coverage. The magnitude of the flood actually hit us only then. It is an irony and a slight shame that Chennai, known for its water scarcity, had waste water running on the roads. North Chennai is still in a very bad shape. 

Yet, the worst has definitely passed now. Sunshine is returning after many (many in Chennai terms) days. Water is receding back steadily. Electricity is back, Communication is back, Transportation is back – Life is back and moving! There are sure, a lot of takeaways from this cruel crisis. It is in us whether we take them to heart and do whatever is needed to stop such a disaster to happen again. We cannot pretend anymore to be ignorant of the obvious loopholes that very much aggravated the problem, which it should not have, normally. And it is not like it is the first lesson (Uttarakhand 2013). I cannot help but think that there are more such shocking events about to occur. No use in lamenting then! We must not forget that nothing can overcome the wrath of Nature if we abuse it continuously. 
P.S: In this time of crisis, there was a lot of love in the air and the innate human spirit of helping came into being when the rest of the country, celebrities and the common man himself readily came forward to volunteer in relief operations.

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